How To Write Foreign Character Accents Using Your Chromebook

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If you’re new to Chromebooks and you’re a bit of a world traveller or you regularly communicate in a language that uses accents, such as French or Spanish, you will need to know how to type them using your Chromebook.

Add Keyboard Layouts

It’s possible to switch between keyboard layouts on a Chromebook, and it’s quite easy. Go to Chrome Settings by clicking on the three horizontal bars in the Chrome toolbar or your user icon in the system tray in the bottom right of your screen, then choosing “Settings”. In the Device menu (or further down in the “Languages” menu), choose “Keyboard Settings” and “Change Language and Input Settings”. Click “Add”, then choose the language you need.

Chromebook Add Keyboard

When you click on each language in your list, you can choose which keyboard layout to use, whether you want Chrome to be displayed in that language, whether to spellcheck in that language and whether to translate pages in this language. You can only choose one language for Chrome displays and for spell-checking, but the translate option certainly helps for those of us who use Chromebooks for travel and make money on the road.

Switching Keyboards

Once you have set up the languages and keyboard layouts you prefer, you can click on the bottom-right system tray in order to switch between them. You can also move between your preferred keyboard layouts by using Alt-Shift to switch between your keyboard layouts or by using Ctrl-Space to go to your last layout. A notification will pop up the first time you do this, then it will simply change between them without a notification for some time after that. Note that the documentation says that you will cycle between keyboards when you use Alt-Shift, but if you use AltGr-Shift (AltGr is the Alt button on the right) it will take you from US to INTL.

System Tray Keyboard Switch

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The option of switching between language-specific keyboards is great if you can touch type in both keyboard layouts. Not so much if you can only touch type in QWERTY, yet still want to use accents.

Accents/Diacriticals On Your US Keyboard Layout

This will require the use of the US extended keyboard, so you’ll need to go into settings as detailed above and add the US extended keyboard or the US international keyboard, depending on your accent needs. You can use the shortcuts mentioned previously to switch between layouts. You’ll see INTL in the toolbar when you’re using the US International keyboard and EXTD when you’re using the US Extended keyboard.

Once you’re using the US Extended or US International keyboard, accents can be entered using their shortcut keys, such as AltGr-e for an accent over your e like this: é. Use the tips below to find shortcuts and view your keyboard layout. As you can see, using AltGr-Shift to switch to the INTL keyboard, then AltGr-Letter and Ctrl-Space afterwards is pretty quick to use once you get going.

Keyboard Layouts & Shortcuts

It’s all very well to use a foreign or International keyboard, but if you don’t know which shortcuts to use you are still stuck. By typing Ctrl-Alt-/ you can get the current keyboard layout to be shown to you. This will also remind you that you can hold Ctrl and see what the shortcuts corresponding to Ctrl are and the same goes for Alt, Shift and Search. However, it doesn’t show you what the shortcuts are for AltGr, which is generally the way to do accents. (Come on Google, make it work!) If you want a list of all of the characters you can make using AltGr in the US International layout, see Wikipedia. It also shows details of the UK and Ireland layouts, but not the US Extended layout, which is different to the International layout slightly.

One of the main differences between the US Extended layout and the US International layout is in punctuation. With the International layout, you can type ‘ followed by e and get é. If you want to type ‘ you need to press the key and then use the space bar. This can get really annoying if you’re not typing accents regularly, as it occurs for other punctuation keys too.

In US International:

  • The ` key (left of the 1) plus the letter will make an accent grave, e.g è, ù, à.
  • The ‘ key (left of the enter key) plus the letter will make an accute accent, or a cédille if you type a c, e.g. á, é, ç.
  • The ^ key (Shift-6) plus a letter will make a circonflex, e.g. û, ê.
  • The ” key plus a letter will make a tréma/umlaut, e.g. ü, ö.

Use Unicode

You can use the Unicode notation of any character to get it to show up in your writing. To do this, type Ctrl-Shift-U, then stop pressing the u. You’ll see an underlined u appear, which means you’re ready to type in the Unicode of the character. Type the numbers and letters (no caps needed) and then press space and it will appear. For instance, Ctrl-Shift-U-00C0 gives you À (A Grave). See Wikipedia for the full Unicode character list.

The UTF8 Extension

As always, there’s an extension for most things in Chrome. For the purpose of adding characters, the UTF8 extension may help you. It lets you easily copy characters for pasting elsewhere in Chrome. All you do is click the star in your toolbar, then scroll until you find the character you want. Then cut and paste — easy!


Google Input Tools Extension

If you swap computers often, or you’re not sure about Chromebooks, you might want a keyboard input solution that stays with you in Chrome. If so, check out the Google Input Tools Extension, which lets you change languages within the browser.

Which of these methods suits you best? Are you a fan of the US International keyboard layout and its quirks? Or do you prefer the US Extended layout?

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